Here’s some reflections I’ve had on how it’s changed since I moved here:
- Portion size
In the US I was used to ordering and expecting to take whatever I didn’t eat home and perhaps eating it again. Sometimes we would pick a particular restaurant knowing that it served too-large portions and we’d eat twice…for the price of one! In Italy, I find that I eat less, in terms of portion size, especially when eating out. Restaurants don’t compete with each other and you won’t find people recommending a place because they give you so much to eat. That doesn’t mean that you should eat every morsel that gets placed in front of you in a restaurant in Italy, but there’s a better chance it’s just right.
Keep on reading!
- Glass size
How I loved getting a big plastic tumbler in the summer, filling it to the brim with ice, and then with my favorite beverage – water, soda, or juice back in California. I missed these huge glasses (and ice) when I first moved to Italy, where most glass sizes are 4-6 ounces. But I now appreciate them because it helps me regulate myself much easier in terms of how much juice or soda I drink (and I drink very little already) – often I pour in a few swallows at a time into the glass, and I never yearn for those 20 oz. cups.
A follow-up from the above point, I couldn’t tell you the last time I cared if I had ice in my drink, though most bars will give you ice in cocktails. Keep the water and drinks cold, pour just the amount that you need to drink in that moment and return that bottle to the fridge, and everything stays perfectly cool. But again, I’m not a big soda drinker.
- Pork products: much more of the other white meat
For those of you who love your pork products (and I mean well beyond bacon), Italy is the place for you. For those of you who prefer the original white meat (chicken) to the “other” white meat, it’s not so great. Lunchmeats are limited to mainly pork and beef products, with the rare, plain slice-able turkey breast lunchmeat available in a rare bar, or in most supermarkets. Oven-roasted peppered turkey? Honey-roasted chicken breast? Not going to happen. This change has been rather against my will, but I’m getting used to it. One thing I do like is praga – smoked prosciutto / ham that is slightly different than the salami / prosciutto cotto – crudo / bresaola / mortadella continuum.
On a related note, you won’t find mountains of skinless, boneless chicken breast on menus in Italy. You won’t find much chicken at all and definitely, definitely no chicken in a pasta dish or on a pizza. You’ll more likely find roasted chicken (skin on, on the bone) with a side of oven-roasted potatoes.
- Raw cheese vs. melted cheese
While cheese has always been a big part of my diet, and continues to be, I have definitely been eating less melted cheese (read: less Mexican food & American food) and instead I eat much more raw cheese while living in Italy. The few Italian dishes I really enjoy with melted cheese are cacio e pepe pasta (pasta with pecorino romano cheese and pepper), and of course lasagna and parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan) but I eat these dishes mainly in winter months, and not even once a week.
And before you say, ah ah, what about pizza? Yes, of course there is melted cheese…on most pizzas. I’ll let you in on a little secret about my favorite pizza: rossa (tomato sauce) with no mozzarella, salame piccante (hot salami/pepperoni), gorgonzola cheese (very little) and fresh rucola (rocket / arugula) on top. So very little melted cheese there, too :)
Wait, what? I know you were expecting a line about wine here. But living in Italy, and perhaps together with getting older, has made me realize and have the courage to say that I prefer beer over wine. Yep. Besides the fact that American beer here is considered foreign (ack!) and preferred by a few people, I have also gotten to experiment with some great European and local Italian beers. My secret is out. I don’t drink alcohol with every meal, and I still drink a glass of wine now and then, but I’m more likely to order a cocktail or a beer over a glass of red wine, or instead get a glass of white wine or prosecco.
- Packaged snacks
I don’t think Italians snack as much as Americans do. Sometimes I miss the salty, nasty packs of low-fat BBQ chips, nut mixes, and crackers that I regularly would purchase in the States. Nuts are relatively plain (I often bring back honey-roasted, chili and dry-roasted nuts from the US) and snacks are often more sweet (the mid-afternoon break, the merenda is mostly sweet) than savory. This is probably a good thing, though. Snacking is not our friend!
- Working out
In the States I was working out 3-4 times a week, and eating whatever I wanted. Here, for various reasons I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with the gym and so even though I’m generally eating better quality and fresher food, I’ve had to watch what I eat a bit more than in the States since I’m not burning off calories as fast.
I am sure there are many more, and I’ll do a part 2 in the future. I’m going to add a few more here:
I didn’t drink coffee, at all, before I moved to Italy. I started drinking espresso here socially, with students, friends, and colleagues, and then 3 years ago I started drinking it every morning. I love and prefer Italian espresso and I seek it out wherever I go, even back in the States.
Where I once used to eat a balanced breakfast – a bagel, some fruit, a granola bar, or occasionally an American breakfast, I now eat nothing in the morning. Just a coffee.
- Meal times : Lunch and Dinner
Instead of lunch from 11.30/12 – 1pm like in the States, my lunch hour is now 1-2pm, which means that I also get home later from work, and I eat later. Most evenings I don’t ever eat earlier than 8pm, and when I’m staying in Puglia dinner can be as late as 9.30/10pm. (thx to Tina for the reminder in the comments)
Have your eating habits changed in the last seven years, even if you haven’t changed countries?
Still hungry for more Italy news? Listen to the All-Italy podcast I co-host called Eye on Italy at www.eyeonitaly.com/podcast.